Pulling over to acknowledge the coronavirus procession

A man pulls over and steps out to acknowledge a funeral procession in Bloomington, Ill., in this 10News WTSP photo.

I grew up in a rural part of Kentucky. A distinct aspect of life in such places: When a funeral procession passes by, you pull to the side of the road and stop. You show some respect. You acknowledge the passing of a life, the grieving of a family. Maybe you’re in a rush to get somewhere. Maybe the kids are fighting in the back seat. You stop anyway. It’s what you do. It’s a nice gesture.

I’m going to suggest right now, in part, that’s what we need to do as a nation, as we sit at home and try to wait through this virus.

Now, look, the reason the U.S. economy has been shut down and 90% of the nation is living under some type of stay at home order is that COVID-19 is extremely contagious and far from under control. It’s a risk to have people working, and mainly, it’s a risk to have them congregating. We aren’t stopped out of respect for the deceased or their families.

And yes, there is a major public discussion to be had about when and how this economy should be restarted. Hopefully, there is pretty intense planning on the part of government officials to think about how this will best be accomplished.

But right now, the number of people I encounter on a daily basis who want to talk about only this, who want to speak of the situation only in economic terms, is bothering me.

I try not to be bothered by it. It’s important to understand that people have lost jobs and businesses. In many cases, they are sitting at home, perfectly healthy and unable to make a living and in some cases losing business enterprises they’ve built. These are good people. They don’t deserve being given a hard time when they’re already having one through no fault of their own.

I have less patience with people who just want to argue politics on either side. But I know that the frustration of the current situation can result in belligerence of all kinds.

At the same time, I feel like I’m sitting there on the side of the road, and this nationwide procession is passing through, and people keep speeding up trying to blow right through it.

Right now, this is a public health and humanitarian crisis. If, and it’s still a big if, the models are correct and 100,000 Americans or more die as a result of this virus, it will be the most deadly intrusion into American life since World War II. This is more deadly than the flu. It is more contagious than the flu.

A great many people are getting very sick. The vast majority who get this are fine. But there is in our communities a significant number of people fighting for their lives against this virus. And there are people dying. And there will be many more.

Against that backdrop, I’m not much worried about my 401k or some political argument over who is right or wrong, or whether this stat or that is applicable.

This morning, Austan Goolsbee, an economics professor at the University of Chicago and the former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors, told CNN, “The No. 1 rule of virus economics is you have to deal with the virus before you can fix the economics. In this, and we can go to whatever phase they want to call it, a stimulus can’t work unless people can get out of lockdown. And we can’t get out of lockdown until we can control the spread of the virus. It’s as simple as that.”

I’m fascinated by the long-term changes, big and small, that this event will cause in American life. And I’m interested to know how the economic challenges will be met, because there’s not a single one of us reading this that isn’t affected by those challenges in a significant way.

But sitting here, watching the processions pass by, the thought of engaging in those discussions now seems disrespectful. I know that isn’t shared by everyone, but it may help you understand why I don’t really care who you want to blame, just now.

And if you are reading this and are battling the virus, or are a family member or friend of someone who is, or have lost a loved one to it, please forgive the rest of us when we lose track on other topics, or complain of trials that are nothing close to what you face. For any that wish to share your experience, please contact me here.

All right, let me share what positive news I can:

1). A LITTLE GOOD NEWS (FOR A DAY) IN NEW YORK. I watched about two hours of cable news coverage about how the overcrowding in New York hospitals is getting worse. Then I listened to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo say that the state had 1,157 coronavirus patients admitted to the hospital in the previous 24 hours, while 1,292 were discharged. All of which means, there were more beds at the end of the day than the day before. Now, that all could be wiped out depending on how many are showing up at hospitals right now. But it does make you wonder if you’re getting a straight story.

2). AT THE UNIVERSITY OF PITTSBURGH, where Jonas Salk developed a polio vaccine in the 1950s, researchers believe they have a coronavirus vaccine, and are hoping to begin human trials in the coming months. Scientists say the vaccine produces antibodies specific to the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 that could be enough to fight off the COVID-19 virus. Tests in mice don’t guarantee results in humans, but the school has applied to speed up clinical trials.

A separate coronavirus vaccine by Moderna, Inc., already has entered a clinical trial, and according to National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci, is proceeding on schedule.

Another vaccine trial, by Inovio Pharmaceuticals Inc., is expected to begin later this month.

3). LOUISVILLE HOSPITAL LEADERS SAY CITY IS READY. Leaders from hospitals in the city of Louisville said that they are prepared to handle an increase in patients as the state braces for an expected increase in COVID-19 cases.

They gave those assurances in a Facebook live session with Louisville mayor Greg Fischer. Read more about it here.